Behind the fame

Actor Richa Chadha tells Sakshi Sharma that her new film Shakeela explodes myths about the Southern adult film star and delves into her human side

Actor Richa Chadha doesn’t seem happy about promotions happening remotely via Zoom and phone calls. Maybe that’s because she doesn’t like things too easy and casual, contrary to how she essays most of her characters. “Everything is remote, so it’s much easier than real promotions,” says she.

Richa plays the role of an adult star, Shakeela, in an eponymous biopic based on the life of the actor who ruled the South Indian film industry for over two decades. The actor was a controversial star back then as most of her adult films were perceived as soft porn. The film delves deep to understand her as a person and not only as an adult film star. Excerpts:

What were your initial thoughts when the offer to play Shakeela came your way? Were you aware of her journey before?

I didn’t meet her in person before the role was offered. Growing up in Delhi, I had little to no exposure to her and her films. But of course, I had read about her in a national magazine cover in the early 2000s. I remember, as a kid I was intrigued about her because the magazine said a lot of things about her personality — How fierce she was, how she was always on the darker side and an unlikely superstar. So, during the initial stage I was basically trying to understand the phenomenon of Shakeela.

How does it feel to portray the person you were intrigued to during your childhood?

Sometimes you get to work with people you had idealised, and honestly, this is a great feeling for any actor. When I worked with Manoj Bajpayee, I recalled seeing him as a kid in Satya (1998). And when I played his wife in Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), that was very special and different… I learnt so much from him.

What made you say ‘yes’ to the role?

Shakeela’s life was very cinematic, full of ups and downs. There’s a lot of betrayal and drama in her journey. When I first heard her story, I was quite surprised that nobody had made a film on this subject till now. So I took it as an opportunity to bring her story out with all the necessary things that had to be shown.

When you play a lead in a biopic, the responsibility is huge, especially when it’s about a controversial figure. How did you prepare yourself?

I knew I would have to do some homework, apart from the physical preparations of gaining weight and so on. Of course, that feeling of doing justice to the role was there but I wasn’t much apprehensive about it because I knew that that is in my control. I knew what I was getting into. I just want her (Shakeela) to be happy with the final product. This is the only thing I am worried about because I haven’t seen the final film because of the pandemic. We’ll all see it together.

I want her to live with dignity after the film releases. I spent a lot of time with Shakeela, trying to understand her point of view… I asked a lot of rough questions. And to her credit, she answered everything really well. Basically, I wanted to observe her and her world which helped me carve myself into the role well. She was very candid, more than how she was in the films or is in public. It was a great time working with Shakeela.

Now that you have studied her and know her deeply, do you think she has a side that the world doesn’t know yet?

She is somebody with a really good heart. She is not bitter about anything, be it her family, friends or the superstars who tried to ruin her life. So in that sense she is very victorious. No one has managed to break her spirit. I feel that she deserves love and recognition for everything that has happened to her. I always see her as a victim in this scenario, somebody who has been wronged.

Why do you think so?

This is because I’ve heard and known about her story closely with her parents, family and how some stars tried to sabotage her career, which is a big topic in the film too.

Even though people have been watching Shakeela’s film (mostly adult), they are often slut shamed and labelled by society at large. Do you think this reflects hypocrisy?

Hypocrisy is there in every aspect and not just adult films. The whole film industry suffers from it. For instance, in Mumbai, it is tough for actors to get a house on rent and at the same time everybody is always watching films. You know what I mean?

This is an issue but I think there are changes in society now and people have become much more accepting. Now, a proper porn star can conduct a film with dignity here. So, we have come a long way.

Your characters vary from each other largely. What factors influence your decision while choosing a role?

Sometimes the reason is purely commercial, sometimes I want to explore something as an artist, sometimes it’s the relationship with my co-actors and directors. So, the reasons keep changing with the project. But one consistent thing is that I try to take at least one project a year that can challenge me and help me grow as an actor.

How has your work helped you evolve as an actor?

Each project gives you something if you work hard on it. If you don’t, then it takes a longer time to learn. However, it’s good to learn on the job because cinema is a great learning for actors. Although people are always reminding actresses of their marriage or ‘what next’ in life but the truth is that as you grow old, you become a better performer and learn from your experiences. This, in turn, helps you shape your life and take better decisions.

(The film releases on December 25.)

Thursday, 24 December 2020 | Sakshi Sharma

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